Indiana not taking Southern Illinois game lightly
BLOOMIGNTON, Ind. (AP) A common theme among Indiana players this week was that the Hoosiers are not taking Southern Illinois lightly.
Forget that the Salukis are an FCS opponent. The only other time Indiana has played Southern Illinois was 2006 when Indiana blew a 21-7 third-quarter lead at home, and the Salukis left with a stunning 35-28 victory.
No one in the current program was there that day but you wouldn't have guessed it from the talk this week.
''Southern Illinois is a winning, prideful program and it has been that way for decades,'' said Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who officially kicks off his fifth season as Indiana's head coach Saturday. ''They're an FCS program but a good number of those teams have matched up well. I don't know if you would call them upsets anymore with the balance and development of football.''
Wilson said he reminded his team this week that Southern Illinois has had as many players taken in the NFL draft recently as Indiana.
Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld said this week's focus has been clear.
''They look athletic and they've got some good players,'' Sudfeld said. ''They're not quite as big as Big Ten teams but we're definitely not overlooking them. Indiana State last year played us pretty well defensively and everything I've seen from Southern Illinois to this point has me impressed early on.''
As a program, Indiana has no reason to look beyond any opponent whether it's a Big Ten rival or non-conference foe. In the last 21 seasons, Indiana has only been to one bowl game - the 2007 Insight Bowl.
Southern Illinois is coming off a 6-6 record last season including a 3-5 record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. But they were just 2-4 outside Carbondale, Illinois.
On paper, the Hoosiers appear to have a distinct advantage.
But after losing to the likes of Bowling Green, Navy, Ball State and North Texas during Wilson's tenure, the Hoosiers understand this one won't be easy.
Here are some other things to watch this weekend:
HOWARD'S BEGINNING: Indiana lucked out in getting Jordan Howard as the replacement to 2,000-yard rusher Tevin Coleman. But nobody outside the locker room really knows what to expect this weekend. While Howard finished seventh nationally in yards rushing per game (133.2). But he was hobbled by an injury in spring practice. He is listed No. 1 on the depth chart this weekend.
THE ODDS: Southern Illinois is 3-27 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision schools with wins over New Mexico State in 1983, Indiana in 2006 and Northern Illinois in 2007. And although they were the first MVFC team to beat a Big Ten foe and seven of their 12 FBS losses since 2002 have been one-possession games.
SUDFELD'S NEW START: The Hoosiers' quarterback has looked good though his first 2 1/2 seasons in Bloomington. But Saturday will be Sudfeld's first start since October. The senior missed the final six games last season with a separated left shoulder. His absence sunk Indiana's bowl hopes. Everyone wants to see if his return will resurrect those postseason chances.
FRESH START: With only nine total starters returning on offense and defense, Salukis coach Dale Lennon has already announced plans to play six freshmen this season. The two key returnees are quarterback Mark Iannotti, who threw for 22 TDs last season, and linebacker Chase Allen, who led the team in tackles (95) in 2014.
BIG QUESTIONS: Indiana's top two receivers, Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner, have graduated and the Hoosiers best returner, J-Shun Harris, will miss the entire season with a knee injury. The Hoosiers must replace all three. That's not the only place the Hoosiers are trying to fill voids. Two starters in the secondary graduated and their leading tackler, Antonio Allen, was kicked off the team in June after being arrested on drug-dealing charges.